Syrian fighting deepens Jordan's 'refugee crisis'
AMMAN — Intensified fighting across Syria sparked an exodus of hundreds of Syrians into Jordan early Wednesday, relief agencies said, calling on the international community to provide support to cope with the growing refugee crisis.
As rebel forces pushed closer to the heart of Damascus, some 1,000 Syrians fled into Jordan late Tuesday, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in what relief agencies warn may be the beginning of a new mass exodus into Jordan.
The bulk of the new arrivals originate from Daraa, the southern Syrian province that sparked the country’s popular uprising in March 2011 and has seen fresh clashes between rebels and government forces over the past two weeks.
Syrian activists in Jordan said most of the new arrivals had previously been stranded in the border region by Damascus’ military blockade, warning that thousands of Syrians are likely to flood the Kingdom in the days to come.
“Many of the people arriving now had been trying to flee for weeks,” said Abu Mohammed, a member of the so-called Local Coordination Committees currently residing in Jordan.
“The Syrians who have been affected by the recent fighting haven’t even reached the border yet.”
Despite the growing influx of refugees, the international community has yet to fulfil its financial commitments, according to the UN, with the UNHCR securing only 10 per cent of the some $80 million earmarked to sustain services in Jordan.
“We call on the international community to step forward to fulfil its commitment and support Jordan, Syrian refugees and local communities that are carrying the burden of this crisis,” UNHCR Spokesperson Ali Bibi told The Jordan Times.
In addition to extending basic services, healthcare and cash assistance to some 34,000 registered refugees and an estimated 50,000 vulnerable Syrians within Jordan, the UN and relief agencies face the added cost of establishing the country’s first Syrian refugee camp.
In light of the deteriorating security situation in Syria, the government has accelerated efforts to establish the country’s first Syrian refugee camp, a 10,000-person-capacity tented facility on the outskirts of the border city of Mafraq, with work set to be completed on Thursday.
According to the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation (JHCO), the camp’s first residents will be refugees currently being housed in transit facilities: guarded residential complexes in the border region where new arrivals undergo security background checks and which are currently at three times their capacity.
The UNHCR, along with local and international partners, designed the camp to be expandable to house up to 130,000 persons should the crisis across the northern borders continue.
Meanwhile, local charitable organisation Al Kitab and Sunna Society and the JHCO began work to convert Ribaa Sarhan — a previously unused refugee camp on the outskirts of Mafraq — into the country’s second camp, with an expected 600-person capacity.
According to the society, the renovated camp, funded by a private donor from a Gulf country, will be completed by the end of the month.
Jordan had long resisted establishing refugee camps, choosing instead to establish transit centres to temporarily house new arrivals.
In light of a fresh exodus of Syrians pushing the number of new arrivals to as high as 1,000 per day, the government lifted its reservations on establishing camps earlier this month, giving the green light to the UN and other international agencies to establish up to 22 camps in the border region.
In parallel with the camps’ establishment, the government has prepared an emergency action plan to cope with the potential influx of up to one million Syrians should the crisis deepen, according to official sources.
Establishing the camps is part of an effort to alleviate the growing stress the 140,000-strong refugee community is placing on the Kingdom, with the presence of thousands of Syrians leading to a housing shortage, rising prices and a spike in water demand in the northern region.
Despite the burden, Jordan continues to follow an open-border policy, providing refuge as well as access to public healthcare and educational services to all Syrians entering the country.